Flow easy at Esplanade
Call that answers every query
Junior doctor tipped to be guardian of public health
Boarders blow abuse whistle
Suicide on Metro tracks
The City Diary
United on action path for a cause
Settlers block township access to Bypass
Go global with passes
Minister seal on water tax

 
 
FLOW EASY AT ESPLANADE 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Esplanade. The crossing of Chowringhee Road and Dharamtala Street. What could have been the defining business hub or city centre is, instead, the most chaotic of crossroads — streets potholed, traffic ill-managed, buildings dilapidated…

A recent government move to carve out a ‘Y’ road at Esplanade is largely being viewed by those in the know as an attempt to seek a simplistic solution to the complex urban planning problem at the crossroad, connecting the north to the south, Sealdah to Howrah. The answer to the traffic tangle, say experts, lies in a “holistic development of the entire area, not piecemeal measures”.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee admits something needs to be done “urgently” to ease the rush-hour madness at Esplanade. “We will look at any proposal to re-develop the crossing sympathetically and try and link a composite project to the flyover plan,” says Mukherjee.

Just such a “comprehensive urban renewal plan for Chowringhee Square” had been submitted to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) in 2000 by the Centre for Human Settlements International (CHSI), or Habitat Centre. The centre, of course, has heard nothing from the authorities yet.

Prof K.P. Bhattacharya, architect and urban designer and executive director of Habitat Centre, says: “Decades of neglect and inadequate re-development have resulted in physical decay. Mixing of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and improper traffic management have been identified as the prime ills plaguing the area. Poor coordination among various infrastructure-development agencies has led to bad return on investments and far from optimum utilisation of road space.”

To separate vehicular and pedestrian traffic at road level, the plan suggests the construction of an overhead pedestrian crossing to ensure easy flow of traffic and reduce the risk of accidents.

As the fulcrum of the renewal formula, Habitat Centre, which conducted a traffic survey and a detailed socio-economic analysis of the area, has stressed “immediate re-development of the two most important corner plots in this civic-cum-commercial centre, located diagonally to each other”.

The shabby block of buildings on the eastern side of Chowringhee Road houses two hotels, one now closed and being used as an office building, and the other functioning, though half-closed.

“The buildings which occupy this block are in a dilapidated condition, do no justice to the high value of land in the area and don’t even serve the purpose for which they were built. Then, there are godowns and car sheds, which don’t belong to a city centre,” observes Bhattacharya.

Things are no better in the corner diagonally opposite, at the crossing of Bentinck Street and Esplanade East, housing K.C. Das and the Chinese shoe stores.

Besides the construction of a pedestrian overpass to address the traffic chaos, the proposal also envisages a mixed-use project in the area, housed in a multi-storeyed building with approximately 9,000 sq ft space on each floor. This includes a medium-size hotel, small retail outlets, a convention centre, office space and a large, full-service restaurant.

An adjacent complex will house new-age entertainment facilities, like a multiplex, high-end shopping plazas, health clubs, food courts and cyber cafes. Kiosks will be set aside for small retailers. Space has also been identified in the Moti Seal Street area, where hawkers can set up temporary flea markets during the day.

“Any makeover of the area to relieve congestion is welcome, as is the concept of multiple entertainment avenues in Esplanade,” says Sanjeev Khandelwal, manager of Metro cinema, which bears the brunt of the bedlam at Esplanade. Worse off is K.C. Das, one of the city’s oldest and most popular sweet shops. “It’s impossible to park near our store and even getting in and out of the premises is a major hassle. If they construct an overhead crossing and revamp the area, we will benefit, along with all others doing business here,” says Manjulika Das, director, quality control, K.C. Das.

The urban renewal project also addresses the parking problem in the area by providing for adequate basement-level parking in each of the new buildings. Besides, a three-level underground parking lot will be provided at the Esplanade bus terminus, which could also house a snacketeria and a rest area.

Architect and town planner Abhijit Sen feels such re-development is absolutely vital to save Esplanade. But the multiple ownership and multiple tenancy in most of the buildings could be major stumbling blocks to any comprehensive makeover, he warns. “Any revitalisation project must be commercially and socially viable and should be able to sustain itself,” concludes Sen.

   

 
 
CALL THAT ANSWERS EVERY QUERY 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
“Is this xxx-xxxx? I want to lodge a complaint for….”

“Sorry, we don’t deal with this. Call yyy-yyyy instead.”

How many times have you heard this on the other end of the line when you have called up the wrong help-line?

Things, however, may change within a year, if Calcutta Telephones and the West Bengal Telecom Circle follow the plans they have drawn up for themselves. Several false starts — the scheme was proposed about a year ago — and “technical hitches” later, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is sure it can give Calcuttans a project that is likely to take away most of their phone blues.

“We are now working on the logistics and the networking required before the project is launched,” a BSNL official told Metro. “We hope to be ready with the project by the end of the next financial year,” he added.

The project, in short, is a single-window, computer-operated, customer service centre. Be it seeking the due date of bills or the more complex number-searching for an address, the call centre will be equipped to handle every query, say officials.

The system will also “reduce to almost nil” the chances of getting an engaged tone, say officials. “Though things have not been finalised, the number(s) will probably have ‘a hunting facility’ to benefit subscribers,” one of them explained. And, again — “most probably” — it will be a live voice answering the distress call, and not an answering machine, explain officials.

Apart from customers, BSNL, too, will benefit from the project, say company officials. With Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd already having been handed over to a private player, BSNL could be next in line, they say.

A call centre will drastically reduce BSNL’s dependence on middle-ranking officials, like a section of junior telecom officers and sub-divisional engineers, who work at the exchange-level, and help the authorities prune the staff count to a level that is going to be “attractive” to a potential private buyer.

Officials say Calcutta Telephones is going to need around 50 operators for the call centre.

Technical problems have delayed the project, admit officials. Senior communication ministry officials said that Calcutta Telephones and the West Bengal Telecom Circle had failed to meet the March 2002 deadline, imposed by the BSNL headquarters, for floating tenders.

However, the West Bengal Circle has already finalised Durgapur as its venue for setting up the call centre.

   

 
 
JUNIOR DOCTOR TIPPED TO BE GUARDIAN OF PUBLIC HEALTH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
The state health department is surprised at municipal commissioner Debasis Som’s proposal to appoint a civic doctor, much below the rank of civic chief municipal health officer (CMHO), as the ‘local health authority’ (LHA) for Calcutta.

The LHA functions as guardian of public health in the matter of food and adulteration.

Under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, in the Calcutta and Howrah Municipal Corporations areas, CMHOs act as ex-officio local health authorities. Som recently sent a file to the health department, proposing the appointment of an officer on special duty (health) as LHA, replacing the CMHO.

This is the first time the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) is lobbying to appoint a doctor of inferior rank outside the public health cadre as the local health authority.

This is being done by curtailing the powers of the chief municipal health officer, who has a diploma and a degree in public health to his credit. “Yes, I have sent a proposal to the state health department to appoint officer on special duty (OSD), health, Atanu Mukherjee as the LHA, replacing CMHO Sujit Ghosh,” said Som.

The municipal commissioner is doing this under pressure from hotel and restaurant owners, who have a nexus with a mayor-in-council member on the Trinamul Congress board, said CPM chief whip Amal Mitra.

“Since OSD is not a statutory post, it can be abolished at any point of time by this mayor or any subsequent mayor. Then what will happen to the cases filed against adulteration?” asked several executive health officers in the public health cadre.

Officers in the health directorate said under the PFA Act of 1954, the Centre appoints the director of health services as the food health authority of the state. It is an ex-officio post. The director then appoints ex-officio local health authorities (LHA) for Calcutta and the districts.

In Calcutta, the CMHO of the CMC is the ex-officio LHA under the statute. Since OSD is not a post, but owes its existence to political largesse, an OSD cannot be made ex-officio LHA.

The LHA orders food inspectors to collect food samples for laboratory test and is the custodian of all the samples collected.

The public analyst in civic food laboratory works under him and the LHA acts as consenting authority at the time of filing a case against adulteration.

According to the civic accounts department, the OSD (health) is by designation a superintendent of a civic chest clinic. There is no establishment expenditure against the post of OSD (health) in the budget provision.

   

 
 
BOARDERS BLOW ABUSE WHISTLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Worried over the rising incidence of violence, drug abuse and sex rackets in hostels, students of medical and engineering institutions in the city joined hands with veteran teachers and academicians on Wednesday and threatened to launch a united movement, demanding government measures to stop such malpractices.

They urged the government to set up an inquiry commission to investigate malpractice in government-controlled hostels, such as drug abuse, sex rackets and screening of blue films.

After discussing the problems with students, well-known retired teachers like Sunanda Sanyal, Amlan Dutta, Sibnarayan Ray and Swaraj Sengupta demanded that the government order a judicial inquiry into the death of Saumitra Biswas, fourth-year student of R.G. Kar Medical College and a boarder of Lalit Memorial Hostel, who was found hanging from the ceiling of his hostel room in August last year.

Students of R.G. Kar Medical College, National Medical College, Jadavpur University and Shibpur Bengal Engineering College were present at Wednesday’s discussion.

Sanyal, Dutta and others present said they conducted investigations in a number of hostels and found that leaders of various political parties encouraged such illegal activities to wrest control over the students’ unions. They demanded that the government stop political interference in educational institutions.

“Those who get admission in medical and engineering colleges do so by appearing in tough competitive examinations. Since we have spent several decades in the teaching profession, it is our responsibility not to allow the cream of our youth to be wasted in this way,” said the teachers.

They attributed the deteriorating conditions of hostels to the lack of proper governmental care. Along with government hostels, they had conducted investigations in some private hostels too, and “were happy to find that the standard of discipline in private hostels is far superior to that in the government-run ones.”

Describing the R.G. Kar student’s death as a glaring example of the grim situation prevailing in hostels, Sanyal and others present said they had reason to believe that Saumitra, an SFI activist, had to lose his life as he had identified one of his classmates who had allegedly superimposed a photograph of the face of a female classmate on a nude torso and displayed it on the Net.

Supporting the teachers, the students said they would soon submit a joint memorandum to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seeking his intervention.

   

 
 
SUICIDE ON METRO TRACKS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Two days after a person committed suicide at the Sovabazar station of Metro Railway, Samir Mukherjee, 55, a resident of Sahanagar, in Behala, threw himself in front of the first train from Tollygunge to Dum Dum. The incident took place at the Netaji Bhavan station around 7.08 am on Wednesday.

Mukherjee was taken to a nearby hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Sources said he was in financial trouble. “Mukherjee bought the ticket at around 6.59 am, which proves the suicide was pre-planned,” said a Metro Rail official.

Three trains were delayed, while one was rescheduled, after the incident. Mukherjee’s suicide takes the toll to 35; 44 others have survived the attempt.

   

 
 
THE CITY DIARY 
 
 
 
Calcutta, March 27: 

Woman run over by truck

Asha Mukherjee, 45, died after a truck knocked her down on Lockgate Road at noon on Wednesday. Police said she was crossing the road when the truck, in a bid to overtake another vehicle, crushed her under its front wheels. Mukherjee was rushed to hospital, where she was declared dead. The truck driver has been arrested and the vehicle impounded.

Rules for Holi revelry

Spraying of colours has been prohibited on the main thoroughfares for Holi on Thursday, said a press release issued by the state government. Spraying instruments, buckets and other containers found on the roads will be confiscated. Tram and bus services will be suspended till 1 pm. Lorries and other vehicles will not be allowed to carry revellers. Spraying of colours will not be allowed on persons who object and military and police personnel.

Oil fraud

Policemen from the detective department’s anti-cheating cell arrested Subhasish Dutta from Gaya in connection with a Rs-14-lakh cheating case. Dutta, a resident of Belghoria, and his accomplice, Debaki Das, allegedly duped a city-based oil merchant. Police said Dutta had backtracked from an agreement made three months ago on the supply of lubricating oil.

Journalist dies

Journalist and former news editor of Ananda Bazar Patrika Bijoy Chakraborty died at his Aurobindo Sarani residence, in north Calcutta, on Wednesday morning. He was 76 and suffering from heart ailments. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. Chakraborty joined Ananda Bazar Patrika in the early 1950s. He became the news editor in the mid-1970s. Chakraborty had also taught music at Rabindra Bharati University. In 1982, he was given the Uttam Kumar special award for his contribution to Indian classical music by Chalachchitra Prasar Sansad. He retired from service in 1996.

Neuro centre

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the state health department and an NRI on Wednesday for the construction of a centre for neurological sciences at Calcutta Medical College. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the centre would start functioning from April 15.

Charred body

The charred remains of Rinku Jaiswal, 22, were recovered from his MB Ghat Street house early on Wednesday. A note, reportedly in Jaiswal’s handwriting, was found beside the body. The note named one person to be responsible for his death. “We are not convinced that it is a case of suicide. A search is on for the person named in the note,” officer-in-charge of Jorabagan police station Dulal Chakraborty said.

Husband held

A man was arrested at Patipukur, in the Lake Town area, on Wednesday after his wife died an unnatural death. Police said the family of the victim had complained that the husband would torture her.    

 
 
UNITED ON ACTION PATH FOR A CAUSE 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
It’s a post-exam spring afternoon in Salt Lake a day before Holi. While children are planning the next day’s chaos, half-a-dozen kids from schools across the city have got together with a more ambitious plan in mind.

These are kids working with Prayasam, an NGO committed to create a more child-friendly city. First on the agenda was a community project aiming to get para people to mix with each other. This was not just for the standard revelry of reunion. “The sense of belonging starts from the local community,” explains Nivedita Bhardwaj, a Class VII student of La Martiniere for Girls. “It is from there that national pride is born,” adds the 14-year-old. Najarkara Amader Para is set to hit the neighbourhoods of Salt Lake and south Calcutta in June.

And these are not just lofty words. The Prayasam gang got their pro-child message across during the Pujas last year, where they set up stalls at pandals to create awareness.

Their campaign for consideration of the needs of the next generation was not trouble-free. “At Maddox Square, a 65-year-old gentleman tried his best to convince us that what we were doing was of no help. He wanted to know how we could change things in a country where the government was doing nothing,” recalls the 17-year-old Debarati Sarkar. “No matter how hard we tried, we could not make him understand that the government was of our own making,” shrugs the Bidya Bharati student.

It is this attitude that the crew, comprising students from reputed schools as well as those in less affluent pockets, has set out to fight. Though most agree that their work would be easier if they were grown-ups, they are not prepared to throw their hands up either.

Preparations are in full swing for the World Health Day fair scheduled for April 5 to 7. The sensitisation programme to be held at the Rishi Aurobindo Colony will feature, apart from check-ups and awareness campaigns, the kids at the colony singing group, Ek Jot, performing some songs in their unique style.

“We cannot afford synthesisers or drums, so they make do with whatever they can lay their hands on,” explains Shuvabrata Chakraborty, a Class X student of Kalyani Experimental, who helps train the kids. “A coconut shell filled with pebbles is their percussion instrument, thick thermocol is their octopad,” grins the 17-year-old, proudly going through the repertoire of Bangla rock and Rabindrasangeet.

Also on the anvil is a child resource directory, which will contain information relevant to children in an easily accessible format. “We want to include pool parlours and movie halls, doctors and child help-lines,” chips in Gourab Talukder, a Class X student of St James. Amlan Ganguly, heading Prayasam, is quick to point out that the kid-crew is on its own with this project. “From collecting information to printing, they are taking up the whole thing on their own,” smiles Amlan. Children’s Day is their target date for publication, in both English and Bengali.

Many schools around the city have also joined in the effort to keep the city clean under the Paye Paye Kolkata project. It is not on a one-time effort, but the emphasis on maintenance of sanitation levels.

Sayan Chaudhuri of Salt Lake School feels that it is the lack of hygiene that is the main problem. “People are just not willing to address it, and this is what will cause the decline of Calcutta,” believes the 13-year-old. But Anindita Roy, a Class X student of Calcutta Girls, is a firm believer that Calcutta has not declined in any way. She is bravely hanging in there “for the moment”.

With so many kids like these doing the care-for-Calcutta rounds, their efforts might be just enough to make their words come true.

   

 
 
SETTLERS BLOCK TOWNSHIP ACCESS TO BYPASS 
 
 
BY SANJAY MANDAL
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Government proposes, party disposes. And Salt Lake suffers.

A 400-ft stretch that separates the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass and Salt Lake’s Third Avenue is now in the limelight because of increasing traffic snarl-ups near the entry and exit points to the township.

With a growing population that loves driving to the city, clogging up the First Avenue route to Calcutta via Ultadanga, the authorities at Salt Lake are now eyeing this 400-ft stretch to ease the township’s traffic worries.

“The state urban development department had earlier planned to construct a road connecting the Bypass with the Third Avenue,” an official said.

“The matter is now under consideration and the authorities agree that the arterial Third Avenue must be connected to the Bypass to ease of the snarl-ups that have increased the distance between Calcutta and Salt Lake,” he added.

But there remains a hitch: many of the houses that are on the stretch — in the Dattabad area — belong to families which, officials say, enjoy the patronage of senior CPM leaders.

There are at least 16 families who have encroached on government land, but have not been touched to date because of “political pressure”, they add.

The Third Avenue, besides touching Salt Lake’s own office para, comprising important government buildings like Bidyut Bhavan, Purta Bhavan and Mayukh Bhavan, is a 140-foot-wide, Type-I road, say officials.

“The township’s proposed main shopping centre in DC block will also skirt this thoroughfare,” one of them said, explaining the importance of this road for the town.

“It’s unfortunate that only a 400-ft stretch is preventing this road from reaching the Bypass,” said Sudhir De, Salt Lake resident.

Narayan Basu, president of Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Association, echoed: “Why should less than 20 families be allowed to come in the way for the township’s over-all betterment?”

But officials are hopeful that the impasse will be resolved. The cause for that hope, they say, is the recent decision to relocate a government-sponsored primary school from the stretch of land that Salt Lake’s residents are becoming increasingly voluble about.

The school that, till recently, used to function from a crumbling building on this plot will soon be shifted to another building, being constructed nearby, officials said.

“The decision to relocate the school is a signal that the government is now doing a re-think on the encroachers,” one of them explained. “Once the new building comes up, these encroachers will be the only hurdle in front of the government and will be easier to take care of,” the official added.

   

 
 
GO GLOBAL WITH PASSES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
From New Zealand to Switzerland, from the US to Australia, the world was never so easy to reach for the Calcuttan.

Sita, a private tour-operator, introduced the city to the concept of a ‘holiday pass’ recently. These passes — coming for a price — will be the answer to the Calcuttan’s prayers for a flexible and hassle-free tour abroad, Sita officials say.

The holiday passes are valid for seven to 25 days and for as many members of the family as one wishes to take along. The passes, say officials, include cost for a round trip from the entry to the exit point, and vice versa, on economy class. They also take care of accommodation, with Continental breakfast, besides the cost of overnight inter-city rail transport.

   

 
 
MINISTER SEAL ON WATER TAX 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 27: 
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee had said it earlier. Today, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya endorsed the proposal and said people will have to pay for the filtered water they use to ensure a steady supply and help maintain the waterworks.

“I have told the municipalities that they will have to pay agencies like the Calcutta Metropolitan Water and Sanitation Authority for the water they supply to homes,” Bhattacharya said after a budget meeting of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority today.

The mayor, who was also present, said the decision was taken at the meeting and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation will have to abide by it.

The tax will be on the economically stronger section of society, the mayor said.

“About 35 per cent of the city’s population are poor and someone will have to pay to ensure safe water supply to them,” the mayor said.

   
 

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